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Poor air quality remains a health threat


Paul Hayes


6/12/2019 12:22:51 PM

Much of New South Wales continues to labour under a haze of ‘hazardous’ smoke.

Sydney smoke haze
Waking up to a blanket of smoke is becoming the norm for people in Sydney. (Image: AAP)

As more than 100 bushfires continue to burn in New South Wales, the state is experiencing ‘the longest and most widespread’ period of poor air quality on record.
 
‘I’ve had patients come in with nasal symptoms, sinus symptoms and sore throats,’ Sydney GP Dr Kim Loo told AAP earlier this week.
 
‘I’ve had a few patients coming in on bad air quality days just from breathing in the high levels of pollution.’
 
The smoke has caused a sharp rise in hospital admissions and ambulance callouts, and weather forecasts indicate no respite in the short term.
 
According to Air Quality Index (AQI) data from the NSW Department of Environment, many parts of the state have been exposed to ‘hazardous’ levels of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), including densely populated areas in southern and western Sydney. 

The AQI is calculated by measuring the amount of ‘particulate matter’ – microscopic pollutants – in the atmosphere. Levels recorded at PM2.5 can lead to devastating health impacts.
 
‘With fine particulate matter you are kind of smoking without consent – you have no choice about the quality of air you breathe,’ Dr Loo said.
 
Sydney currently has the 20th poorest air quality in the world, according to live air quality rankings, and data from the NSW Department of Environment shows the air quality in Australia’s largest city this bushfire season is three times worse than at any time in the past five years.
 
‘NSW has experienced other periods of poor air quality that lasted several weeks, including the 1994 Sydney bushfires and the Black Christmas bushfires of December 2001 to January 2002,’ a NSW Department of Environment spokesperson said in a statement.
 
‘This event, however, is the longest and the most widespread in our records.’
 
Experts are also reminding people with asthma to ‘follow advice from their doctor, limit time spent outdoors and avoid vigorous exercise’, and to create and follow a written asthma plan.
 
‘We know that using an inhaler can be tricky, but good inhaler technique is key to getting the most from your medicines, which could be especially important when air quality is low,’ NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Jill Thistlethwaite said.
 
The ongoing health threat has seen many schools opt to keep children inside, cancelling sport and outdoor playtime.
 
‘Imagine what it is like keeping 19 little ones inside,’ a kindergarten teacher told The Sydney Morning Herald. ‘We’re going a bit stir crazy, teachers and the kids.’

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